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Sleeping with the past
A region 2 DVD review of p.s. by Slarek
 

If you've elected to be a disc or film reviewer, which is an essentially egotistical profession or hobby, you don't really get to say "That's not my sort of film." In this game, everything should be your sort of film. If a review disc lands on your doormat, well you decided to be a reviewer so you get to cover it, especially if your fellow reviewers are all otherwise occupied. As it happens this is no bad thing. It's all too easy to do the book-cover-judging thing based solely on a title or a trailer or the cast or director, and you can sometimes get a nice surprise that makes just a little dent on your prejudices.

I'll come clean here and admit that I'm not a fan on modern romantic dramas or comedies. Then I'm not a romantic, not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not immune to a bloody good screen romance – Casablanca gets me dew-eyed every time and A Matter of Life and Death is running on TV as I write this, seemingly berating me for my cynicism (mind you, it's on Channel 4, who have just fucked up one of the best transitions in the film by inserting an ad break mid-way through – who wouldn't be cynical after that?). But in recent years the horribly formulaic and sometimes nauseatingly saccharine nature of film romances, at least in US and the UK cinema, is enough to make a cat vomit.

On paper, at least, p.s. (the lower case is correct here) looks like another of those 'romance with a twist' stories, ones in which two people of differing backgrounds, age, ethnic groups or personalities are brought together by a turn of fate and whose mutual attraction has a film full of obstacles to overcome if they are to end up together. And they will end up together, at least if the studio has anything to do with it. That the twist here has a potentially supernatural edge only made me more apprehensive.

It all starts with Louise Harrington, who's an admissions officer at Columbia University's School of Fine Arts. She's divorced, approaching 40 and frustrated with life. About to head home after a day of processing applications, she finds one that she missed and is startled to see the name of her long-since dead high school sweetheart on the return address. But it gets worse. When he turns up for his interview, 20-something Scott Feinstadt not only has the same name as Louise's dear departed, he looks like him too, and even paints like him. Overcome by the memories from her past, Louise quickly seduces him. Will it last? Will that age difference really matter? More to the point, is Scott really the reincarnation of Louise's ex-lover?

Actually, this is not the point at all, but a device to enable Louise to examine her emotional life, past and present, and her feelings about hitting middle age. This is explored with a mixture of the obvious (phone calls to her best friend Missy) and the smartly written and surprisingly downbeat, as when Louise externalises her own neuroses by outlining to Scott just how life might turn out for him being married to a 40-year-old like her. It's a similar story with the narrative, which drifts between the pleasingly unexpected, the not quite convincing and the generically formulaic, its indie film smarts occasionally undermined by its conciliatory eye for audience expectations.

Where the film does impress is in the largely low-key handling of the characters and some very nicely judged performances. Laura Linney completely and convincingly inhabits the role of Louise without ever sentimentalising her or drowning in middle-aged angst, and Topher Grace impressively holds his own as Scott, neatly side-stepping most of the character clichés you might associate with such a role. Nice support is provided by Gabriel Byrne as ex-husband Peter and Marcia Gay Harden as sex-mad best friend Missy.

So has p.s. turned me all around on modern romantic dramas? Not really, but I will freely admit that it's more involving and thoughtful than most such films I have endured in recent years. It also scores serious points for its positive portrayal of an age-gap relationship in which the woman is both the older party and the central character, a too-rare occurrence in cinema that just about justifies the rather chick-flick ending.

sound and vision

Framed 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced, this is a pretty good transfer that rises above that when the light levels are good, with pleasing contrast and detail, but slips a bit in darker scenes, where the contrast is less impressive, colours do not always seem quite true, and black levels sometimes vanish completely. At its worst, this can be very noticeable, but scenes that suffer are thankfully few.

Dolby stereo 2.0, surround 5.1 and DTS tracks are all available and all well mixed and clear. This is not a sound show-off movie, but the 5.1 and DTS tracks do have a tad more finesse than the stereo.

extra features

Only one of real note here, a Commentary by director Dylan Kidd and cinematographer Joaquín Baca-Asay. Kidd does the lion's share of the talking, covering the expected ground – planning and shooting scenes, working with the actors, etc. – in pleasingly ego-free fashion. The likelihood is that this track has been imported from the US release, which would explain the multiple references to deleted scenes that are not present here.

The Original Theatrical Trailer (2:12) sells the film very much on its romantic qualities.

The usual Trailer Reel has some choice inclusions in the shape of 36 (the French trailer with no English subtitles), The King, The Proposition and The Devil and Daniel Johnston.

summary

If romantic dramas are your thing then you should definitely give p.s. a look – though it follows genre expectations in some ways, it breaks with them in as many others, and the performances really sell it, even if the script wanders a tad in quality. Tartan's DVD has a reasonable transfer and an interesting commentary track, but is missing the deleted scenes from Sony's US region 1 release.

p.s.

USA 2004
94 mins
director
Dylan Kidd
starring
Laura Linney
Gabriel Byrne
Topher Grace
Marcia Gay Harden

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
DTS 5.1 surround
languages
English
subtitles .
none
extras
Director and cinematographer commentary
Trailers
distributor
Tartan
release date
25 September 2006
review posted
28 September 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews